A Beautiful Sunrise Loses Something…

When its viewed from the front seat of an ambulance with a patient in the back.

My on-call last night went very well, until about 4:45 this morning. I’d say that my years with the fire department have gotten me used to late night or early morning emergency wakeups, but let’s be honest….you never get used to it. Being torn from sleep by a screaming pager is not the way to start the day.

We arrived on the call scene, and the medical magicians did their thing. (I am not a medical professional, I strictly drive.) We left en route to the hospital, and while I was concentrating on avoiding the cracks and potholes that have appeared in the main road thanks to a brutal winter, dawn broke. I’ve always rather enjoyed dawn. Watching the sun come up always gave me a sense of peace. I’ve found that its best enjoyed while standing on the shore of a lake with a travel mug of coffee in one hand and a fishing rod in the other, but no matter how I manage to catch it, it is always peaceful.

Except this morning, and other mornings like it. And it has nothing to do with the fact that the temperature was -1 F when I left the house, or that I was so far ahead of my first cup of coffee for the day that the functionality of my brain was limited to the safe handling and operation of the taxpayer’s ambulance. The truth of the matter is, the luster of dawn is tempered by any sense of urgency. Be it late for work, or hauling a potentially serious medical case to the hospital, it doesn’t matter. Dawn should be savored because in the world we live in, those few minutes before the whistle is blown to start the day are the only moments of peace that most of us get. With busy schedules and two young kids, my only chance to get some quiet is to beat them up and savor the little bit of morning before the sun is up and the races begin.
I know my ‘bad morning’ is nothing compared to that of the poor woman strapped to a gurney in the  back of my rig, but at the same time I can’t help but feel a little cheated. The sunrise was clear and beautiful, but I just couldn’t enjoy it because of the sense of urgency that dominated the morning. I liken it to being outside in the frozen winter, and being able to see a crackling fire in a fireplace through the window in someone’s living room. You can see it, and you know its wonderful, but from where you sit, it might as well not even be real.

There is, however a bright spot; one that overshadows the feeling of being robbed of the ability to enjoy this morning. Last night I got a phone call from the agency which I am looking to start my new career with. The board of directors voted unanimously to hire me on in a part time capacity. This means I can dump one of my tech support jobs and begin to turn the focus on full time work in my new field. The agency I will be working with has already filled their open full time slot, but there are other places looking to hire, and if I have experience in-field with this new job, I stand a better chance of landing my dream job sometime very soon. So in one respect, the sunrise I couldn’t enjoy this morning still managed to signal something new, something fresh…even if I didn’t realize it at the time.

 

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The Horrifying Memory of a Four Year Old

I have no way of knowing if this ‘gift’ exists in all children, I only have two, and only one of them can talk yet. But The Narrator has an uncanny ability to remember some of the most amazing things. It absolutely astounds me on a regular basis.

Fall, 2013. My parents had just moved into their new house and we were over to visit. My father is an avid model train enthusiast, and The Narrator was sitting on the couch with him as they browsed one of his magazines that had come in the mail. The two of them were looking over locomotives that my father was considering getting for his layout. Some time later, I had stopped over with my son for something quick. My sister, on a whim, asked him “What train do you think grandpa will like for Christmas?” Without hesitation, The Narrator flipped to one of the pages in the magazine, and pointed out the one that my father had apparently liked best. “Are you sure?” He was sure. And he was right. For Christmas, my father got a brand new HO scale locomotive that he had really only told my son about. The boy was three at the time, and was able to recall specifically something that had been told to him in passing.

Yesterday, We were sitting at the dinner table waiting for the boys to finish their meal. While we waited, I decided it was time to clean out my wallet. The accumulated junk must get dumped out periodically, or I’ll never be able to find what I need. As I emptied, buried deep in one of the slots, I find two bent purple ticket stubs. I take them out and put them on the table.
“The monster trucks!” – came the cheerful twitter from The Narrator, sitting next to me. Sure enough, they were the stubs from the tickets I bought when I took him to  see the monster  trucks after I finished my 6 month training course for the new job…..EIGHT MONTHS AGO. Not only that, but the stubs were visible for all of….two minutes. We picked the tickets up at the window, walked 20 feet to the gate, had them torn and the stubs returned, and they went in my pocket, never to be seen again. To be honest, I’m not even sure how they ended up in the wallet.

This terrifies me to no end. My parenting experience is rife with mistakes, errors, and moments where I have honest-to-God FAILED as a parent. Is he remembering this? Is he going to be able to recall every one of my failings when he gets old enough to make a decision as to how I did as a father? I do, of course realize that he is only four, and there’s not a lot for him to have wedged into his head yet, but such minute details of things have a tendency to stick in his brain, what is he going to be able to remember later on? What I’m hoping, is that one or two of you, my fair readers, will comfort me with the knowledge that all young children possess this uncanny ability to horrify us with their memory, and that later on they’ll become actually human like the rest of us, and need a constant reminder for such simple things as putting on pants.
On the upshot, I have used his magnificent mind to my advantage a few times. Just the other day, I needed to pick up some motor oil, and had nothing to write with, so I asked him to remember “5W 20.” ….Sure as hell, while wandering the automotive section: “Daddy, don’t forget 5W 20.”

You might have your voice notes on an iPhone, but I’ve got a four year old with a terrifyingly useful memory.

Memory.

Owing to the constant flurry of activity, between three jobs, hunting for a new one, two small children, and the myriad of usual personal problems, it is no secret that I am a forgetful man. There are days when my brain refuses to perform much more than the basic survival tasks assigned to it. We once went three weeks without having our garbage collected because I had forgotten to take the bin out to the side of the road so it could be picked up. The very same bin that sits in front of the car when I park. I literally have to look directly at it every day when I come home from work. But still I forgot.

We were in the grocery store the other day, walking through the aisles, and I said out loud “Oh, I need cooking spray.” Then promptly forgot it. Literally seconds after saying it.

Whatever part of the brain that handles ‘remembering things’ takes frequent and extended vacations on me without so much as a warning. So, I decided that I needed a bit of help and would pick up a vitamin or herbal supplement to assist me in my quest for an improved brain. I wandered into the dietary supplements section of the grocery store and started looking about at all the different things that ‘experts’ say are good for you. And I realized…I’d forgotten what it was that is supposed to help with memory. I literally forgot what it was that was supposed to help me stop forgetting. It was embarrassing. I considered asking the pharmacy tech for assistance, but I reconsidered. She was a girl about my age, and I was worried that my quandary was ridiculous enough that she might think I was joking around in an attempt to flirt with her, so in an effort not to come off as creepy, I rejected the idea of asking for help. Instead I started reading the labels on all of them, one by one.  Thankfully, they were arranged alphabetically, and “Ginkgo Biloba” wasn’t that far down the list.
I clutched my prize and made for the checkout counter with victory swelling in my chest much the same as someone finishing their first marathon might feel.

….then, I remembered I had a shopping list in my pocket and had to go back.

So, in the end I overcame a brief lapse in short-term memory and found what I was looking for.

Of course, the new problem is remembering to take the damn things every day.
Sometimes, you just can’t win.

How Children Defy Physics*

(*Assuming you take creative liberties with definitions, and completely ignore basic scientific and sociological knowledge)

Stand on top of a hill with a big, heavy rock at your feet. Your task is to get the rock to the bottom of the hill. Nudge the rock with your foot. It doesn’t move. Place your foot against it and push. Nothing. Lean down, heave as hard as you can. The rock moves. Then it gains momentum, in a few moments, it is rolling down the hill on its own. You’ve done it.

That’s how science works. There are laws of physics which explain why that happens, which I cannot lay out for you because I was kicked out of physics. And chemistry. And took earth science twice…..er….anyway.

With children, the harder you push, the further backwards YOU end up, with that metaphorical rock sunk a little deeper into the ground and your hopes of getting it down the hill any time before the next planetary alignment are about as realistic as finding a unicorn surfing upon the back of the Loch Ness monster while on a fishing trip to a trout stream.

You just cannot push kids to do anything. Case in point-

Breakfast time in our house is usually a simple affair. Waffles bedecked with either nutella or the classic syrup are a favorite. Occasionally some corn muffins (when I don’t screw them up) or english muffins, fruit….whatever. The Narrator generally devours breakfast happily then pounces off to start his day of Hot Wheels races, failed block towers, (another physics lesson for another time) cartoons, and bickering with his brother. The usual kid’s stuff.
However, the VERY second you start up breakfast with something else on the schedule beyond it and make the mistake of uttering the fatal words “Hurry up, we have to <fill in the blank>” ….he shuts down. The two waffles that took him .83 seconds to devour yesterday will now take him thirty minutes to eat. My legendary patience doesn’t help the matter either. As soon as I get fussy because he’s turned mule, he’ll cry, then the waffles will get eaten just about in time for the fourth grade.
His uncanny ability to sense urgency and resist it baffle his mother and I. This is most expectantly observed on school days. We leave the house at 8 on the nose. We wake him at 7. For the hour in between, he has three simple tasks. Dress. Eat. Brush teeth. As I sit here at 7:42 He has finally finished the waffles, but is nursing his cup of milk the same way someone might nurse a single beer at a party. His mother is crafting, and I’m typing this, the both of us trying hard not to ask him to ‘hurry up please’ – since we would really like his next day of school to come sometime before we have to rent a cap and gown.

Push a rock, it’ll go where you want it to go. That’s physics. Push a child, (Not physically. Don’t do that.) and you’ll end up nowhere near accomplishing what you need to do. That’s parenting.

The Edible Abomination….

That was dinner tonight.

The Narrator and I had a long morning of gallivanting about gathering groceries and car parts for the banged up Subaru, Supermom spend the day working on some craft projects and priming one of the walls in our bedroom, then later on we took the boys out to play in the snow where Supermom decided that the snowman I made was a disaster, so she made a better one.

So, after a long day, I decided a fast dinner would be in order. I elected to make french toast. Fast, simple, delicious. It should be mentioned that I’d never MADE french toast before, but I’d eaten it a time or two, and…well, how hard can it be? Eggs, milk, bread, some assorted spices, and we’d have the golden brown delectable treat everyone is so fond of.

Except…it didn’t happen that way. My first attempt, I forgot to grease the griddle, so the 4 slices of bread got stuck and ruined.
Takes two and three were…better, except I screwed something up, and what I ended up with was less the image of the amazing breakfast treat, and more of…well….fried eggs stuck to bread.

The thing of it was, after borking up the first batch, I wandered over to cooks.com and checked out one of their recipes, and it was so, so simple. But even following their recipe, it looked more like an egg sandwich than french toast.
In spite of the aesthetics of the meal being akin to a Doctor Who villian, Supermom seemed to enjoy it- what she was able to eat of it, since Mini-Me couldn’t get enough of it and ate a good portion of her dinner. The Narrator- the pickiest of the picky….devoured his so fast that he ended up biting his tongue.

The moral of this story I guess- is that with enough maple syrup….even your failures can become victories. Much like the old college dining hall method of covering a monstrosity in cheese.

I was going to photograph the outcome and post it here, but I didn’t. So I’ll give you the best photographic depiction I can, images courtesy of Google again.
This is what I was aiming for:

This is what I ended up with.

Again, everyone ate it, and was happy…but I’m not sure why. Or how.

 

The Competitive Four Year Old

Could it be that all kids at this age are obsessed with competition? I can’t say for sure, but I do know that The Narrator turns everything into a race or a game of some kind. He’s got it bad too. If he thinks that he has ‘lost’ something he’ll sometimes degenerate into a temper tantrum.
On the surface, this might seem annoying, but it is a rich environment for teaching moments as well as opportunities to magnificently twist his desire for competition into productivity.

At least a half dozen times a day he’ll declare that “We’re going to have a race!” And we’ll be dragging Hot Wheels cars or Thomas engines down the hallway and back a few times. We, of course let him win the bulk of the time, he is only four after all. But every now and then when he decides that the race might be too close for comfort- he’ll cheat. And when he cheats, I beat him at his own game. Usually badly.

The reason for this, I tell him, is that if he doesn’t want to play fair, he’s going to lose. The results are that the cheating has lessened significantly. He still gets upset if he loses, and we’re working on the lesson that ‘you can’t always win.’

For some reason, this one is harder to teach than the ‘don’t cheat’ lesson. I know everyone likes winning, and when you’re four, losing a Hot Wheels race down the hall is the end of the world. I’m not trying to squash his love for competition, but I am at least trying to teach him that he’s going to lose at things from time to time, and its not a signal that the universe is going to terminate in a timey-wimey disaster.

On the upside, his difficulty grasping the concept of loss is playing into our hands at dinner time. The kid is, or WAS one of the epic picky eaters that all parents dread. We have discovered that if we put a stopwatch up for a minute or to for each bite of “Something I don’t want” and declare that daddy will be the winner if the time runs out- he’ll shovel damn near anything we ask him to into his mouth and eat his dinner in less than half the time that he would if we left him to his own devices. Not only that but there are no tears, no screaming, whining, or sounds that haven’t been heard on this earth since the Spanish Inquisition.

So, we’re in the middle of a delicate balancing act. Instill in him the idea that he’s not going to win everything he sets out to, but at the same time stoking his desire for competition and winning just enough that dinner time in our house becomes bearable, and not the single most dreaded time of the day. All without confusing him to the point where he shuts down on us.

Wish us luck.

Damn You Les Stroud….

“There’s nothing on TV.”

A familiar lament in any household, this line is uttered damn near every night by either my wife or I after the kids go to bed and we settle onto the couch for a few moments of peace before we inevitably fall asleep there. We often fight over the remote- but not in the classic sense. We fight over who will be burdened with finding something to watch. There’s a few shows we try to catch, but by and large, its white noise until we arrive in “Zonk-City.”

Lately, with nothing being even remotely watchable amongst the numerous shows featuring pawn brokers, ‘reality’ morons, gold-hunters, or Animal Planet’s lame-ass attempts to convince us that mermaids are real, we’ve fallen back to watching reruns of Survivorman.
I know the show does absolutely nothing to depict recreational hiking, camping, or adventuring, but last night as I watched an episode, I found myself quite literally twitching with the urge to go through the closet, dig out my pack and start going through it as if I were planning a hike. I lay on the couch wrapped in a blanket wondering where my paracord had gone off to, when the last time I saw my camp stove was, if my belt knife needed to be sharpened, and so on. Then reality came back to me, I realized it was 7 degrees, there is two feet of snow on the ground, and the forecast for the next 10 days according to the weather.com app on the Kindle says “Bundle up jerks, its still winter.”

As I watched this survivalist go through the process of making fire, setting up camp, fishing for food, and videoing spectacular natural views, I grew despondent again.  Then I became downright grumpy.

This winter will never end, and I’ve got cabin fever worse than I’ve ever had it. I’ve got it so bad that I flipped the pages of the calendar over and marked the first day of fishing season on it and told The Narrator “You and I are taking a day off.” My wife didn’t even look up from her crafting.
“Fishing?”
“Yes.”
“Okay.”

Just like that.
It may still be a long way off, but I have something solid to look forward to, and I suspect my son does too. I didn’t tell my wife that I’m considering an overnight trip to a lake up north, but….one step at a time I think, right?

God I hate winter.

Kids and Cops

I had a police officer tell me once that his job was highly rewarding, but his biggest pet peeve was how often parents use the law, and specifically the police as a weapon of fear when dealing with their kids. He told me specifically about a time that he was eating lunch at a restaurant while on shift. A mother with a child who was being a a bit unruly, sees his uniform and tells the kid loud enough for the officer to hear: “If you don’t behave, I’ll have that policeman come over here and arrest you.”

If we stop and think about it, we can all probably think about a time in our lives where we were told something similar, or recall a time as a parent where we were the ones that said it, or something similar.

What the officer told me, and I wholeheartedly agree- is that this is a problem. We are teaching our kids at a very young age that police officers should be feared because they’re always looking to arrest you, or to catch you doing something wrong.

Your personal proclivities regarding law enforcement aside, wouldn’t you rather your kid recognize a police officer in an emergency as someone who can help, rather than someone who should be run away from in fear?

The town we live in is very small, and I’ve known most of the people on the local police department for much of my life. One of them told a story of how he went into the school right after his shift was over with the intent of picking up his son. One of the school officials asked him to leave because he was in uniform, and there was no reason for him to be in the building where he could potentially scare the kids. Uniformed police officers are (or were, I don’t know if its changed) literally not welcome in the school.

I understand that there are negative aspects of police work, or media stories of unfavorable police encounters, but by and large law enforcement officials are NOT something that your average 3rd grader should be scared of. A school that escorts them out of the building, or a parent that uses them as an instrument of fear to control a youngster is quite possible creating more problems than solving.

As a member of a volunteer fire department, every year we do a “Fire Prevention Day” at the local school. Part of the education is to teach the kids that while a fully geared up firefighter might be scary to see, or hear while he’s breathing air out of a tank on his back- he is a friend. Run towards him. We even do drills where the lights go out in the class, and several of us crawl around on the floor with flashlights. The kids are taught to yell, scream, and grab onto the firefighter to let them know where they are. The man dressed like a martian, breathing heavily, and carrying an axe is there to help.

Meanwhile, I’m seeing the opposite where law enforcement is concerned. The man with the uniform carrying a gun and a badge is not brought in to meet with the kids. He is not asked to tell them what he does, he is not given the opportunity to answer questions that kids may have. Instead, he’s escorted out of buildings, or treated like a problem when he does have to go into the buildings.

As a result, I’m worried that a lot of our kids are being brought up with the mentality of “Oh crap, there’s a cop, something must be wrong, RUN!”

The Narrator is old enough that I’m trying to correctly educate him about law enforcement. What they do, how they work, and why they’re not to be scared of. I’ve had friends of mine stop by the house in uniform, so he can see there’s nothing to worry about. One of his grandfathers is a police officer, although he’s never seen him in uniform. We’ve run the line “Pa is a policeman, and he’s not scary is he?” past him, and it seems to work. He came with me to the police station one day where I had some business to conduct, and there were two officers in there. It took him all of 5 seconds to warm up to them, then he filled the room with chatter and talk, and my fears that he was still scared of ‘the man’ were put to bed, but I’m ever vigilant to make sure there’s no misinterpretation, and I certainly keep the “He’s gonna get you!” lines out of our bag of tricks when he’s being a pain in the butt.

A very close friend of mine was doing some training with a local organization, and he was working on a road patrol. A car pulled up and the driver asked him if he could ‘scare’ the little kid in the back seat, who kept taking his seat belt off. My friend told me he played it differently- rather than put the fear of God into the 4 year old in the back seat as his mother asked, he introduced himself to the little boy, and asked him to ‘be his helper’ – and see that everyone in the car always wore their seatbelt. The kid got over being terrified of the police officer, and by the time they drove away, the he was waving and promising to help the officer out.

In short, I think we’re spinning law enforcement in the wrong light to our kids, either at home or in school. In schools, police are only there if there’s a problem. At home, they’re being used as another tool to exert our control over a sometimes unruly child- and I don’t think that any of these are a good thing, because you never can tell when a kid will need to turn to an officer of the law for help, and if they’re afraid to do so because “The policeman is going to get you” – who knows what can possibly happen.

“Make Him Sleep More.”

Last night was a long one. It started snowing here about 7am yesterday, and continued until this morning. When it does that, and we’re expected to get a snowfall that is measured in ‘feet’ rather than inches, I love nothing more than to let it all happen, wait it out, then dig out when its over. However, this was not an option last night. Somehow, I was lucky enough to be on call with the ambulance, which meant making sure that I was constantly dug out all night long so I could leave if I had to.

In retrospect, it made little sense to do so, since even if my driveway was clear and the car brushed off in preparation for emergency departure- there was still 3-4″ of snow ON THE ROAD.

At any rate, I’d be responsible for a call it it came through, so I dug. All night long I dug. I made it a point to get up every 2 or 3 hours to make sure I was able to get out. Mini-Me also made it a point to get up every few hours. My wife tried to get him back to sleep while I was out, but he fought her. I took him and was able to get him to sleep, but it was fitful at best. When I was finally able to get him back to bed, it was late. But we went to bed. Somewhere around 3am, he woke up again, and I shambled into his room again to restore peace and quiet. I dumped him back in bed, cleaned more snow, and went to bed around 4am.

Somewhere around 6, I hear him wake up again. My shift is over at 6am, and part of me hoped that my wife would get up with him and let me catch up on some of the sleep I missed between putting the little guy back to bed and shoveling snow. That hope was dashed to pieces when my sleepy wife groaned- then growled the words “Make him sleep more.” …So, in I went, but he was awake for good, and we started our day.

My wife swears she doesn’t remember saying that, but I have my doubts.

I’m Lonely and Can’t Emote…..Apparently.

The other day on the way home from work I heard a radio program that featured a woman who had written some book or another- the details escaped me because I only caught the tail end of the program, but the gist of the interview she was giving can be summed up in a few short points:

  • Men are exhausted trying to fulfill the image of ‘manliness’ that society forces upon us.
  • Men are lonely because we feel we aren’t allowed to emote.
  • The manly image constructed by society obviously doesn’t work because if it did, the world wouldn’t be in the shape that it is in today.

Basically, I had this lady tell me that I’m lonely, exhausted, and essentially what is wrong with the world.

I found this interview frustrating and irritating. First of all, it painted an acceptance for a double standard that confounded me. Stick a man in an interview and have him tell the world that women are too emotional, not strong enough, and what is wrong with the world, and I’ll show you an ICU patient. He’d be excoriated beyond recognition. However, this lady had men all figured out, and it was no-problemo.

Secondly, the idea that the concept of ‘manliness’ is universal and deplorable is ludicrous. Some people might take it to the extreme (however they view the concept) and it could be harmful, but there’s no way to lump everyone’s idea of what being a man is into a neat bundle, and slap a negative label on it. That’s pretty insulting.

I REALLY got the feeling from this woman that her overall idea was that “Men should be more like us.” – and I think her tone really managed to insult women as well, because she again managed to make a sweeping generality about women that may be unfair to many of her gender. I really think she managed to climb up high on a pedestal, and insult everyone around her, regardless of what chromosome set they’re packing.

I don’t know exactly what this woman pictures ‘manliness’ to be that its so terrible, but my ability to change the brakes on my car, field dress game, build things with my hands, take care of my family, or grow a beard has never made me feel lonely or exhausted. In fact, it often makes me feel closer to the people I love, and accomplished when something I built doesn’t collapse in shambles when I’m cone.

…and since my being able to do so is apparently wrong with the world, she can open her own goddamn pickle jars from now on.